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Have you ever sat down and eaten a whole tub of ice cream without even noticing? You're not alone. Mindless snacking, or mindless eating is the term used to describe subconscious eating habits that could lead to weight gain. Learn how to prevent it here.

If you've ever eaten a full bag of potato chips or a full tub of ice cream without even noticing - or when you're not even hungry - you're not alone. Millions of people across the U.S. are victims of mindless eating or mindless snacking, a psychological term coined by Brian Wansick, PhD food psychologist at Cornell University. Mindless eating is simply eating without thinking about it. 

Although it might sound harmless enough, mindless eating and snacking could lead to you eating between 20 and 50% more calories at each meal - which could add up to a huge weight gain over the course of one year.

What Causes Mindless Snacking?

Mindless snacking and mindless eating are caused by a huge range of things. Whether you're watching TV, reading the newspaper with breakfast or chatting with your friends over lunch, distraction while eating causes distracted, mindless eating. Another common cause of mindless eating is eating off of large plates, drinking out of short, fat glasses, eating out of large bowls and even eating off of plates that are the same color as your food.

Wansick conducted a number of studies into how the size of serving dishes can affect portion sizes, with some rather startling results.
  • In one study, Wansick found that people poured approximately 37% more liquid into short, fat glasses, than tall, skinny glasses that hold the same volume of liquid;
  • In another study, he found that those eating popcorn at the movies ate up to 45 more popcorn when it was in a super-size container than if it were served in a large container - even if the popcorn was stale!
  • Another study on children's eating habits found that they poured 50% more cereal into a 16-ounce cereal bowl than an 8-ounce cereal bowl;
  • In one rather clever experiment, Wansick and his team adapted 30 bowls so that they were "bottomless" - being constantly refilled very slowly through the bottom so that the participants didn't notice. 30 participants ate food from normal bowls. Those with the bottomless bowls ate a whopping 73% more than those with normal bowls - and they didn't rate being any fuller at the end of the experiment, either.
  • If people ate off of 12 inch dinner plates, they ate between 25-50% more than those eating off of 10 inch dinner plates;
  • Perhaps most tellingly, Wansink and his team asked 150 Parisians how they knew that they were done with dinner. They said "When we're full". They repeated the question to 150 Chicagoans and the reply was "When the plate is empty"

This tells us that America has massively different views and feelings around food and that if we want to become a slimmer, trimmer nation, we need to adopt some European eating habits.

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